Interview

Tunisia ten years after the Arab Spring

The Arab Spring started ten years ago with the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia, where a street vendor set himself on fire in protest against corruption and social injustice. Utvecklingsmagasinet has interviewed Gabriel Lindén, Deputy Head of Authority at the Swedish Embassy in Tunisia, to find out how Tunisia's democracy has changed since then.

In January 2011, the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia started as an aftermath of the street vendor Mohammed Bouazizi setting himself on fire after the police confiscated his goods. The revolution was a consequence of poverty, high unemployment and corruption and then spread to several countries in the Middle East and North Africa. The Jasmine Revolution led to many positive things such as the development of democracy and a well-functioning presidential election in Tunisia. Gabriel Lindén, Deputy Head of Government, works at the Swedish Embassy in the capital Tunis. The embassy is relatively new because it was closed during the revolution. It reopened in 2016 after Tunisia held a democratic election and a new constitution was in place. 

- A lot has happened in ten years. Today you can express yourself freely at work, on the internet and among friends without having to worry about the consequences. It is a great achievement in comparison with other countries in the region, says Gabriel Lindén as, for example, a well-organized election that resulted in the introduction of a functioning state apparatus.  

- It is unbelievable because free and fair elections are something relatively new in Tunisia. The most impressive thing is that they have succeeded in cooperating between political forces that are actually far apart. The distance between moderate Islamist and secular parties was enormous, even though they think so differently, they have still averted crises, cooperated and stuck to decisions - it is a success, says Gabriel Lindén.

The Swedish government has an interest in supporting the development of democracy in Tunisia. In addition to the embassy's work to support Tunisia's young democracy, civil society and gender equality work, the embassy also assists Swedes who are in the area with assistance. Although the development seems to be going in the right direction, there are clouds of unrest. Human rights organizations and individuals testify about individuals who have been critical of the police and the judiciary who have been harassed and prosecuted on loose grounds. 

- The current situation is far from relaxed and there are still some basic rights that authorities and the judiciary must work with, says Gabriel Lindén.  

Even before the pandemic, Tunisia suffered from an economic and social crisis with high unemployment, especially among young people. The situation has worsened even more, unemployment has risen and, especially in southern Tunisia, companies have found it difficult to stay alive. Many Tunisian young people are looking abroad for a brighter future, for example to Europe and Italy, and the number of trips across the Mediterranean has therefore increased. In the past, the passengers on such boat trips have mainly been people from sub-Saharan Africa, but in the past year, many Tunisians have also tried to cross the Mediterranean, says David. The biggest challenge for Tunisia today is to provide the population with work. To regain control of the economy requires a series of new reforms such as eliminating segregation and reducing the price of basic products such as bread. 

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